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Syntax—The Traffic Rules of Language   169
association of it with rains, and similar expressions, eg it is usual
People who speak a language which has equivalents of is, ate., was,
were for the copula connecting attribute and topic (i e thing or person)
get used to the transition from the explicit statement the water is hot
to the moie economical form, it is hot, when the context makes it
clear that it stands for a real thing The same remarks apply to the
conventional question-patterns;, is the water hot? and is it hot? It is a
short step to apply the same formula metaphorically when the precise
topic is less clearly specified. In spite of the fact that a unit of tune is
not a heatable object, we also say the day is hot. When we make the
more economical substitution it is hot., in accordance with our habit
of dealing with a statement with an exphcit and relevant topic, the
field of reference of the pronoun embraces the whole set-up What
now compensates for loss of its original function as a snappy substitute
for a tangible thing is our habit of interrogation The customary
inversion demands a subject after the verb in the formula is it hot*
Thus habit and metaphor conspire to encouiage intrusion of the pro-
noun it into situations where it merely does the job of an interrogative
particle such as eh?
Something analogous goes on with words which have the formal
peculiarities of nouns and verbs, and we can watch it happening in our
own language Hammer is the name-word for a static object By assimi-
lating -ing it becomes identified with the process of using it, and
attracts all the affixes of a weak verb The converse occurs A process
such as to sing is associated with a person or thing by assimilating the
affix ~er of unger Interplay of habit and metaphor works havoc with
any attempt to establish a clear-cut relation between word-form and
word-function, and we can see both at work in the most primitive
levels of speech Aiahnowski sums up the results of his own studies on
speech in backward communities as follows
"The fundamental outlines of grammar are due to the most primitive
uses of language. . Through later processes of linguistic use and of
thinking, there took place an indiscriminate and wholesale shifting of
roots and meanings from one grammatical category to another For
according to our view of primitive semantics, each significant root
originally must have had lib place, and one place only, in its proper
verbal category Thus, the roots meaning man, animal, tree, stone, water,
are essentially nominal roots The meanings sleep, eat, go, come, fall, are
verbal But as language and thought develop, the constant action of
metaphor, of generalization, analogy and abstraction and of similar
linguistic uses build up knks between the categories and obliterate the